Thursday, November 4, 2010

Street Botany

MARIA JOST: Tellima Flora (sort of)

Maria Jost and Bobby Smith plant an awesome show at Fulcrum Gallery

Published in the Weekly Volcano, November 3, 2010

In "Street Botany," the latest show at Fulcrum Gallery, science meets art with a little humor thrown in. It features drawings and posters by Maria Jost and an intriguing installation by Jost and Bobby Smith.

In wall statements Jost explains that she approaches art from the viewpoint and experience of a scientist: "Don't worry I'm a scientist. I am a product of scientific training, I make the measurements, crunch the numbers and compile the data."

But she's also an artist - an illustrator to be more precise. Though I grant the distinction is growing ever slimmer, some, like myself, still make a distinction between fine art and illustration.

Jost's drawings in India ink and collage are highly decorative and amazingly precise. I like the strong black and white contrast, the lyrical movement, the fact that you almost have to study them with a magnifying glass to see which elements are collaged on and, most of all, the educational value (applied with dry wit) in her titles and the written elements within the drawings.

Most of the drawings are of plants and the titles appear to be their Latin names. I say "appear" because I don't know enough Latin to be sure, and variations of the titles are often repeated in printed words within the images in English, or a combination of English and Latin, and typically with a humorous twist. I suspect some deviously witty twists in meaning that only people who know Latin will get.

"Figure 8: Taraxicum officinale" has the printed statement, "What is this Taraxicum officinale poster about?" followed by a series of multiple choice answers, all but one of which have to do with botany and one of which is the challenge of working with a light image on a dark background. I suspect the correct answer is all of the above.

One of the more intriguing images is "Figure 9: Pisium sativum and Homo sapiens," which features the visual trickery of bean pods that are actually naked women and the clever statement "You are what you eat. All living organisms are made of the same stuff. ..."

There is also a series of postcard-sized drawings of clouds.  These are weak in comparison with the botanical drawings, and I wish they had been left out to allow room for more of the larger drawings and posters.

In the back room is a dome built by Jost and Smith with actual plants and written information about botany stuck to the interior walls with a shiny gel or varnish; there are also images projected onto the walls. Viewers can walk into the dome, sit on a padded bench and study the walls. Spending time inside is both restful (meditative) and informative. Too bad one of the projectors was not working when I was there.

Through Nov. 13, noon–6 p.m. Thursday–Saturday and by appointment
artists’ talk Nov. 11, 6 p.m.
Fulcrum Gallery, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma

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